BY THOMAS SACCENTE – STAFF WRITER
The American film industry is a business that works almost exclusively on a yearly cycle. The seasons are a defining factor for what movies get released at what times, and this formula continues as a staple of the industry for decades. For example, the beginning of the year is always the hardest for moviegoers, with January and February being the dumping ground for films that the studios believe will not receive much commercial or critical success. This is due to the fact that movie attendance is low during these months as they fall immediately after the Christmas holiday season, as well as being past the point where the movies in question could be considered for that year’s Oscars. However, now that this year’s Oscars are over, it is time for the film market, and the public as a whole, to prepare for the busiest time of the year, a time in which the studios reap massive profits and moviegoers begin flooding theatres en masse: the summer movie season.
A defining aspect of the summer movie season is, of course, the summer blockbuster. These are movies that center on spectacle and big action, with more of an emphasis on widespread commercial appeal than on complicated plots or subtlety. Hundreds of millions of dollars go into making these films, with a vast majority of it being spent on payrolls for bankable A-List stars and high quality special effects to get people to come see them. The big game here is not to make the most intellectually stimulating film, but to make something that will appeal to a wide variety of people and give them a good, exciting night out at the movies, thereby ensuring a surefire profit for the studios.
Even more impressive than this are the advertising campaigns that go into promoting these films. These often involve months, sometimes more than a year, of coordination between the studios and various other companies to create a vast array of merchandise to get people excited for their upcoming projects, especially their highly budgeted ones. Also, in addition to the more traditional ways of advertising such as TV spots, print ads and promotional interviews, the studios also take advantage of the Internet to promote their movies, with teasers, trailers, trending topics on Twitter, ads on various websites, Facebook pages, and other mediums designed to generate considerable buzz in the months leading up to the release of these films. The studios want as many people as possible to see their movies to recoup their production costs and turn a substantial profit, and will often spend as much money on advertising as they did on the actual movie to do so.
One of the most dependable genres for the profitable summer blockbuster formula, especially in more recent years, is the superhero film. Not only do these films come with their own built-in fan base of the people who grew up reading the original comic books (with many of these properties having been around for decades) but their emphasis on action, high-concept storylines, and flashy special effects translates very well to the screen. Marvel Studios in particular is very successful in adapting several of its largest properties this way, having created ten films as part of its self-described “Cinematic Universe” and with many more to follow (about nine at last projected release).
The biggest and most highly anticipated of these upcoming films for summer 2015 is undoubtedly Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to 2012’s megahit superhero film The Avengers, which saw multiple heroes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming together for the first time to battle a common enemy. This is a film that had a very expansive marketing campaign, with little teasers and hints of what the film is about being revealed intermittently since the original’s release and the third trailer being released recently. This strategy appears to be working, with countless people tremendously excited for what this new installment may bring, especially those who have enjoyed Marvel’s previous movies.
Senior Simon Reiffen, for example, is especially looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron and can’t wait to see it as soon as it hits theatres. “The first Avengers was a great movie,” Reiffen said. “It wasn’t intellectually challenging or anything, but it was fun. It instilled the essence of what a superhero movie should be. Funny banter and great action scenes, and I hope to see a repeat of that. [The Avengers] is a fun movie to watch with your friends.”
In addition to Avengers: Age of Ultron, this summer will see the release of several movies that are also connected to other franchises. More often than not, sequels, spinoffs, and remakes (as well as their cousin, the often unnecessary reboot), are a popular trend during the summertime season, with producers being habitually eager to cash in on the good faith earned by previous installments of certain series to get people to see their expansions or “reimagining” of them. One such film will be Jurassic World, a third sequel to the 1993 hit Jurassic Park that has garnered no small amount of controversy recently due to a trailer that depicted actor Chris Pratt training velociraptors at the titular dinosaur theme park. Other such films that will be released this summer include Marvel’s Ant-Man, the Terminator prequel Terminator Genisys which will see Arnold Schwarzenegger return to the title role, Mission Impossible V, Ted 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, a remake/reboot of the 1982 film Poltergeist, and 20th Century Fox’s reboot of The Fantastic Four, a franchise that met its untimely end at the hands of scathing reviews and less than expected box-office returns in the wake of 2007’s outing, Rise of the Silver Surfer.
However, while the summer movie season is a very profitable time for most studios, it is not without critics. Many condemn the major movie studios for using the summer movie season as a means to reap vast profits off of films with little to no artistic merit. These are people who feel as if studios should be spending more of their resources making and promoting films with more substance, films that offer more in the way of intellectual stimulation than most summer blockbusters are willing to impart.
In addition, many accuse the studios of “dumbing down” the plots of their summertime films in order to appeal to the foreign market. Moviegoers from foreign countries have become a considerable presence at the box office in recent years, especially from Asian countries such as China. Therefore, movie studios have increasingly tried to cater to them to bring in some of that otherwise inaccessible revenue, often simplifying the storylines, dialogue, and characterization in their summer blockbusters in order to minimize what gets lost in the localization process. Over the past few decades, this has proven to be a very valuable strategy. For example, according to Box Office Mojo, last summer’s Transformers: Age of Extinction grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, with 77.5 percent of that sum, an amount totaling about $846 million, being derived from foreign markets. In addition, $301 million of that money came from China alone. This revenue made Transformers: Age of Extinction the highest grossing film of 2014, despite the fact that that film was subjected to widespread ridicule by both critics and fans worldwide, who often regard it as the worst entry in the entire Transformers franchise.
However, with that being said, many others claim that the presence of these summertime blockbusters is not inherently bad. Some say that they are just a natural part of the moviemaking business, a type of film that is prevalent at a particular time of the year that allows people to start craving more intellectual films when autumn and winter come around, times in which such films are more likely to be released. Senior Luke Maupin says that summer blockbusters are all part of the cycle of making movies, and that, while they do not often emphasize critical thinking, some recent big franchise movies have been helmed by more experimental directors, thereby allowing them to promote more creative ideas on a much bigger scale than they would have had otherwise.
“I don’t think [big blockbuster movies] are bad necessarily,” Maupin said. “I think there can be good from it. The modern film calendar has divided itself into seasons … so it’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you look at the way the franchises have been going recently when we’re seeing interesting directors like the Russo Brothers [who directed Arrested Development, Community, Captain America: The Winter Soldier] or like James Gunn [with Slither, Super, Guardians of the Galaxy] who have been given the opportunity to stretch in big franchise features.”
In addition, there is nothing written anywhere that says that blockbusters themselves have to be completely devoid of artistic merit. In the past few decades, there were a number of summer blockbusters that were hugely successful with both audiences and critics. These are films that were praised upon their initial release for being action-packed, visually stunning, and sometimes even thought-provoking, marrying both sides of the intellectual spectrum in a way that made them accessible and enjoyable to most everyone. Director of the Film Studies Program Dr. Stacey Peebles states that there are many films that go against the stigma of being mindless popcorn films, citing Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as a major example.
“His [films] have been the best big budget superhero movies because they’re innovative, they’re stylistic,” Dr. Peebles said. “They’re good movies in and of themselves, they just happened to be about Batman and yet people have responded to them a whole lot.”
The summer movie season is an exciting time for both the movie studios and the general movie-going public. Although it is not the most artistically satisfying time of year for movies, it does offer people to let loose and have fun, and there is nothing wrong with that. Who knows? Maybe even one of the big blockbusters mentioned in this article might be the next great summer movie. Only time will tell, but I for one am eagerly waiting for what’s coming this summer, no matter what happens.